People nowadays often fuss and fret about the question of the meaning of life. What is the meaning of life? Is it meaningless? And if there is meaning, why isn’t it obvious? Dozens of answers have been given to these questions, and so there has been a great deal of fuss and fretting.
And yet, there is a larger question which is rarely addressed, and that is, “What is life?” It is, I think, a harder question to answer. And, I think, as well, that there’s a reason it is so often avoided. And that is this: the answer implies a demand. If you know what life is, then you’ve got to live it.
Holy Week is a time when life — real life — is defined for us. And that is why it is so important that every Christian worship regularly and diligently during the week ahead of us. We need to know what life is, even more than we need to know what it may mean.
And we need to know the answer to another and related question — “What is power?” And upon the answer to this question will depend the quality of one’s life. What is power? We’d better find out, because, of course, we need power. We must have power — to live, to work, to study, to think, to build, to be. We must have power. But what is it? At where is it?
The crowds we heard about in the two readings from the gospels this morning knew what they thought power to be. It was might. It was strength. It was the force required to get rid of their pagan Roman conquerors. It was the ability to put down a tyranny and once again to live free. (But what, in fact, does “to live free” mean, if you don’t know what life is?)
Yet even so, theirs was an obvious answer, and given their situation as a brutally conquered people, it was not an ignoble one. People should be free. Brutality and tyranny are always wicked and should be overthrown. And so … Away with Rome! Down with the conqueror! We shall restore our kingdom and re-establish our own ways. You, Messiah, hail! You, Son of David! Come lead us and free us! Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessings on the Lord’s anointed!
Yes, that is power. But is that all there is to the power of might ? To earthly power ?
For, let’s not forget, such power as that, is always fickle — and quickly turns around. It is treacherous — that kind of power: One tyranny replaces another. Today’s liberator is tomorrow’s despot. Oppression/oppressor just change their names and put on different clothes.
And the crowd always seems to along.
Hosanna! Blessings! Save us!
Then — Crucify! Crucify him! Give us Barabbas! We have no king but Caesar!
What is power? What is life? What do they look like? Where can we get power — true power. And where can we get life — true life?
This coming week is a time to discover the answers to these questions. This week God will show us what life and power look like.
And it will be a surprise, you know. Not what we expected, nor what the world we live in tells us every day. For power and life in God’s eyes and in God Himself is something quite other than what we might imagine.
In God’s eyes:
Power and life – they look like a man comforting and healing the sick.
Power – real power – and life – real life:
They look like a man putting aside and forgiving people’s past mistakes, sins, and guilt.
Power – real power – and life – real life:
They look like a mean preaching good news to the poor and gathering to himself thoses whom others despised.
Power – real power – and life – real life:
They look like a man washing people’s tired and dusty feet.
Power – real power – and life – real life:
They look like bread and wine.
Power – real power – mand life – real life:
They look like a man dying on a cross.
And most important, most surprising, most unexpected — power and life, they look like love. Come and see. Come and see.
The Church of the Advent began with a short walk on Bowdoin Street. A short walk, but a rather purposeful one. In a late autumn evening of 1843, Richard Salter, a physician, walked from his office at No. 4, Bowdoin Street, to the office, No. 2, of a friend and colleague, William Coale. Having been received there, he, as he himself put it, “rather abruptly” proposed, “Doctor, what should you think of forming a new Episcopal Church?” This was an odd thing for him to do, for Dr. Salter was not an Episcopalian. In fact, he was a Congregationalist, but here he was proposing to Dr. Coale, a man who was an Episcopalian, that together they should form an Episcopal Church. But even odder still was the kind of Church the two men agreed to found at their meeting that evening. It was to be a Church, to quote them, “formed in the spirit and according to the principles of the Book of Common Prayer,” and it was to be a Church open to all, with free seats, supported by the voluntary, free-will offerings of those who worshipped there. It was, in short, to be an Episcopal Church like no other in the City of Boston.
You may find these two intentions for the new church surprising. Surprising because today they are the norm: Episcopal Churches today may use the Prayer Book in an perplexing variety of ways, but they do use it, and today Episcopal Churches are supported by the free will offerings, that is to say the stewardship, of those who are members. But it was not so in Boston in the 1840’s. Boston was a Puritan city and even the Anglican/Episcopalian clergy were imbued with the prejudices of that grim sixteenth-century movement. One of these was a suspicion of the Prayer Book itself, over which many battles had been fought and heads, in fact, had rolled. However, it was more than just a suspicion of the Prayer Book; it was a dislike of any set form at all for the Church’s worship. Dr. Salter, the Congregationalist, had become dissatisfied with his own denomination, which was Puritan through and through, and began visiting Episcopal Churches seeking for something different. But what he found was the same as what he had left: cold, disorganized, lifeless services. Worship in name only, no part of which touched, or inspired, or affected the worshipper. And the Book of Common Prayer, with its sacraments and its discipline of prayer, was largely ignored. And so he proposed a new kind of Episcopal Church: one that actually used its Prayer Book!
And this new Church was to be open to all. But how, one might ask, can a church be closed? That question is easily answered by a look the system universally used in those days to support the operation of a Church: set fees for the use of a pew – pew rents – which in effect made a church a kind of semi-private club or religious theatre. Individuals, families, rented their pews from year to year. The best seats commanded the highest prices, of course, and the sums were not inconsequential. One of our neighboring parishes, Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street, recently made a study of pew rents there in the 1860’s. And what they found was that the choicest seats – in the front, of course – were rented yearly for what would be in today’s currency about $19,000. $19,000 for a pew in church!
And so, if you sat in the balcony of one of these churches on a Sunday and surveyed the crowd below you, what you would see was an image of the hierarchy of Boston society: the rich in the front, the not-so-rich and the middle class in the middle, the poor in the back, and those without means standing at the rear or sitting beside you up in the balcony. All those things which separate people in the world – rank, privilege, fortune – were there in microcosm every Sunday in a church. Dr. Salter and Dr. Coale agreed that in the new church it would not be so. There would be no distinctions between people, because the attendance would be free.
This would be a risky business, for such a system of voluntary contributions had never been tried. A risky business, indeed. Could such a thing possibly succeed? Those who founded the Church of the Advent ventured to give it a try and find out.
Other meetings followed Dr. Salter and Dr. Coale’s first abrupt evening together, and other people joined them. And finally a little over a year later, on September 24, 1844, the Parish was formally organized and a constitution was adopted. Its first article stated – most of you have heard this before but it’s worth hearing again – that the intention of those forming the new Church of the Advent was “to secure to a portion of the city of Boston the ministrations of the Holy Catholic Church; and more especially to secure the same to the poor and needy in a manner free from unnecessary expense and all ungracious circumstances.” We have lived by that intention ever since. It is as close to the heart of the Church of the Advent now in 2015 as it was then in 1844.
And so you see, good people, from the very beginning the Church of the Advent was conceived of as a gift. It was a gift to the city of Boston of a church with devout and affecting worship – something which was unknown, but ardently desired. It was the gift of a Church where the godly order of the Kingdom of Christ, not the privileged order of the world, would be a principle of its life.
The Church of the Advent is a gift. Originally a gift to the city of Boston; now a gift to you and me and all who come here to worship. The Church of the Advent is a gift and it is a community of giving. A community of giving which spans the one hundred and seventy-one years of its existence.
Everything around you in this wonderful building was given. The Great Rood which reigns, as it should, over the interior of the Church, was given in 1924 by a Mr. William Richardson. The seven hanging lamps which burn before the Altar were given in 1864 by a Mrs. Charles Cobb. The reredos which towers over the Altar was given in 1890 by Isabella Stewart Gardner. The font in which so many have been baptized was given by a Miss Perkins in 1850.
And the giving still goes on. Some of you may remember when, several years ago, one half and then the other half of the nave were roped off and netting was installed above. The building was deteriorating and stones were falling inside, which made is quite literally dangerous to sit in certain places. We undertook a Capital Campaign to repair and restore the church. People gave, many quite generously, and the church is now in excellent shape. And so, this building was a gift at the beginning, and it is a renewed gift to all of us right now.
And there are more gifts. For many years now, a member of the Parish has proved instruments for an orchestral setting of the Mass once or twice a year. A beautiful and deeply spiritual gift to all those who worship here.
Recently, a parishioner had the inscriptions as you enter the Lady Chapel cleaned and re-gilded. You couldn’t really see them before and few people knew that they were even there. Now you can see them. A real gift to us all.
Several years ago a parishioner saw to it that the large paintings in the Sanctuary were cleaned and restored. Dirty and dull before, now they are resplendent. Another gift to us all. Everything around you – the wonderful stained glass, this pulpit, the vestments, the sacred vessels, the organ – everything was given by someone at some time and those gifts continue to give to you and me today and they will continue to give to those who will come after us.
Come by the Church on a Saturday morning and you will see any number of people giving their precious time and their talent to make possible what will take place on Sunday. And on Sunday the Choirs, the servers, the teachers in the Church School, the ushers, those who prepare Coffee Hour, all giving of themselves to this community. On Tuesday evening for over thirty years a hot meal and an opportunity for companionship has been provided to the poor and the lonely.
A meal given by the people of this parish. Throughout the week space here is available for classes, for meetings, for AA. Given. This Church began as a gift and it continues to be a gift – to those who worship here and, as at the beginning, a gift to the city itself.
And so, good people, I suspect you know where this is going. Here is the punch line. This gift, the Church of the Advent, depends upon your giving, depends upon your stewardship of God’s bounty, depends upon your returning to God a part of what God has so lavishly given to you through a pledge to the Church of the Advent. Think about this. Pray about this and make a pledge. Think about this a second time. Pray about it again and make a larger pledge.
* * * * *
There is a story in the Gospel of Luke about giving and its reward. It is the story of Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1 – 10) Zacchaeus was a tax collector in the city of Jericho, and he was rich. Jesus was passing through the city and so Zacchaeus, curious, went out to the road to get a glimpse of the rabbi from the country who was making such a stir. Zacchaeus was a short man, so he climbed a tree to see over the crowd. And he must have been very surprised, indeed, when Jesus stopped, stared at him, and invited himself to dinner. Surprised, but joyful too, for most people despised tax collectors and shunned them. At dinner Zacchaeus stood and said to Jesus: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus answered, “Today salvation has come to this house . . . for the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
One of the things that St. Luke’s Gospel is showing us in this story is that receiving Jesus, having fellowship with Jesus resultsb in repentance and restitution – “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – and results as well in generosity, in giving – “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.” That is what receiving Jesus does to us – it issues in repentance and it issues in giving – and, it seems, this – repentance and giving – is part of what it is to be saved, for Jesus responds to Zacchaeus’ promise by announcing to all around, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
My sisters and my brothers, our salvation, our new life in Jesus involves giving. It involves giving, for Jesus is God’s gift to us, and that gift within our hearts both causes and allows us to give. Our Lord Jesus opens us up. He frees us within. His love and his presence are our security and this allows us to let go of false security, to let go of an inordinate and selfish attachment to the things of this world. That makes us alive, really alive. There are few things more poisonous to the soul than stinginess, and that there are few things more life-enhancing and liberating than giving and generosity.
Just this past week, we began our Stewardship Campaign for the year 2016. I want you to think about and pray about your pledge. Think about and pray about your obligation as a steward of what God has so generously given you. Upon your response depends the health of this remarkable and holy parish church. And, if I may be so bold as to say it and, after all, it’s my job, upon your response depends the health of your soul.
For two and a half centuries Boston has been a city of organs and organ-builders. When Thomas Brattle’s little chamber organ arrived from London in 1708 it was quite a novelty; the Reverend Joseph Green of Salem noted in his diary that he had been to Brattle’s house and “heard ye organ and saw strange things in a microscope.” (1) In those days an organ in a home was a delight, but an organ in a church was an abomination. When Brattle died and willed the instrument to the Brattle Square Church it was summarily refused, so it went to King’s Chapel. There the congregation did not refuse it, but they were exceedingly ambivalent. Cotton Mather and other dignitaries bitterly denounced the “box of whistles” and the organ remained outside the church in a crate on the porch. For seven months one of organ music’s longer debates dragged on; finally, in 1714, the Brattle Organ became the first church pipe organ in the Colonies. (2)
In 1800 there were four or five local organ builders, and in 1850 there were ten, by which time the Church of the Advent had its third organ. The first had been a little foot-pumped melodeon offered in 1844 by the Rector, Dr. Croswell, for the services on Merrimac Street and at the Lowell Street Meeting Hall. When the congregation moved to the Green Street Church in 1846, a new pipe organ was purchased for $350. After this time, the Advent embarked on an extraordinary series of new organs to match the growing needs of the congregation. The third organ was acquired in 1849, the fourth in 1865 with the move to Bowdoin Street. Nine years later this was sold (or perhaps donated by Mrs. Jack Gardner) (3) to the Groton School Chapel. A fifth instrument by the noted Boston builders E. and G. G. Hook was then installed, but it was not satisfactory to Samuel Brenton Whitney, the Advent’s famous organist, and it lasted only a year, being supplanted by the sixth organ in 1875.
In 1883, upon completion of the present church’s crossing and nave, the Advent acquired its seventh and penultimate pipe organ. It was a Hutchings-Plaisted Company instrument of considerable size, with three keyboards and pedals, costing $6,750. (4) The pipes and mechanism were located in the present organ chamber with the console directly below in the All Saints Chapel. Of course, this organ (and all previous ones) had mechanical action, that is, hundreds of wooden sticks connecting the keys and pedals to the organ chests above. These sticks (or trackers, as they are called) ran out the top of the console and straight up through the Chapel ceiling, where the outline of the passage may still be seen, now paneled over. As with many such instruments, the mechanical linkage may have been noisy and difficult to manage, for the more stops that were drawn, the harder it was to play.
There are no records of the fact, but it is quite possible that the tuning of this instrument was done by a young Hutchings employee named Ernest M. Skinner. Skinner developed into a brilliant inventor; joining Hutchings in 1890, he soon rose to rank of superintendent. Eventually he produced an electric action for Hutchings that did away with heavy-handed organ playing. One or all stops could be on, yet the light and even touch never varied.
After thirty-eight years of service, Samuel B. Whitney retired in 1908. He was honored by the title organist emeritus and, in 1909, was elected to the Corporation. Thus he was doubtless consulted in 1912 when the twenty-nine-year-old organ was rebuilt with the Hutchings’ patent electric action. (5) The new console, a gift of the Misses Sturgis in memory of Charles Russell Sturgis, (6) stood just under the pipe chamber in the chancel. (Joints in the flooring still show the position.) With a new lease on life, the Hutchings organ continued in use for twenty-two more years.
* * *
Now let us skip to the 1920s, look in again on the ingenious Mr. Skinner, and pause to examine in detail the extraordinary events that were to culminate in the eighth and present Advent organ, a most remarkable instrument.
By 1926 the young tuner and inventor from Hutchings was an exuberant sixty-year-old patriarch, head of the Skinner Organ Company of Boston, leaders in American organ building, for twenty-five years supreme in influence and excellence. With the financial backing of Arthur Hudson Marks, a wealthy devotee of the organ, and some of the proudest advertising of the century, Skinner toured the country selling huge organs in prominent places. The two hundred men of his Boston and Westfield factories worked a double shift six days a week to keep up. On average they shipped a new organ every week of the year. (7)
It was a massive undertaking, considering the quality and complexity of the product. Skinner’s inventiveness had revolutionized the mechanism of the organ into a pacesetter for this country and equal to the best in the world. A Skinner organ was as breathtaking as a Steinway, and it was much, much bigger.
The tonal design of Skinner’s organs was also his own production. He had developed colors based on the infinite variety and majestic power of the Wagnerian orchestra. A Skinner organ of any size contained choirs of String tone, Flutes, Oboes, English and French horns, Clarinets, a Harp, Trumpets, Brass Choruses and stirring Wagnerian Tuba effects. All these voices were invented or perfected by Skinner, save the last; the big Tubas were copied from Willis, the venerable English organ builder. In fact, the famous Henry Willis III himself made several trips to Boston on a consulting basis. Eventually, at Skinner’s request, Willis sent over his own assistant and protégé, G. Donald Harrison, as a tonal adviser. (8)
Ernest Skinner was a fine organ builder, but in the late 1920’s he hardly realized that a reform movement away from orchestral organs was budding all around him. Some organists were saying that an organ should play Bach’s music as Bach himself heard it, not in an expanded orchestral version. Skinner was contemptuous. To him, Bach’s organ was a “box of whistles”. When it was pointed out that a pipe organ is not an orchestra, Mr. Skinner’s attitude took on a certain defensiveness.
But characteristically, he would not change. Meanwhile, the enterprising company president, Arthur Marks, set about annexing another organ maker, the Aeolian Company of Garwood, New Jersey. Aeolian had produced nearly 900 pipe organs, some of enormous size, but virtually none in churches – for what Skinner was to the Church, Aeolian was to the Home. They specialized in luxurious installations in residences, as well as quite a few on yachts. Almost all had automatic roll players of surprising effectiveness – no organist was ever necessary. The Aeolian Concertola would even play a program of ten rolls in rotation, (9) and in a few installations the Steinway grand could play the harp part – at three pitches.
The refinement of the Aeolian tone was remarkable, and with only a few inconspicuous alterations, any home could house an Aeolian organ of virtually any size. Marks knew that the combination of Aeolian and his own company would be ideal, and after protracted negotiations, the merger was effected. With a proud new hyphenated name, Aeolian-Skinner, and the new tonal director from England, “Don” Harrison, at his heels, Marks hoisted all sails and charted a flamboyant course – straight into the depths of the Great Depression.
By 1932 business was terrible. The much-vaunted Aeolian Company’s residence organ business fell to nothing even as the merger went through. No one could afford a luxurious house organ now; churches felt the pinch as well. The Aeolian-Skinner factory was in the doldrums – instead of an organ a week, they were lucky to build an organ at all. Bankruptcy and factory closings were decimating the industry; the two hundred man Skinner team was halved, and shrunk further. The Westfield plant closed, never to reopen.
Marks understood that keeping things afloat meant bold thinking and a new direction. He settled on G. Donald Harrison, the new English tonal director. Harrison’s ideas were not new or especially unique; as in all things, everything in the pipe organ business is derivative. But Harrison’s designs were in line with the movement away from orchestral ideals, and by now he had the support of several well-known and highly respected organists. Perhaps Harrison as a new broom would sweep in a few much-needed contracts. (10)
George Donald Harrison was an impressive figure, with a noble British accent – forty-three years old, an artist, a diplomat, and a gentleman. Like Skinner, his personality was of great power, his presence commanding. He inspired the complete confidence of organ committees, and, even more telling, the loyalty of the factory men as well.
Unfortunately, it was difficult for Ernest Skinner to see that the ideas of a younger man could be more in step with the times. Increasingly, he viewed Harrison’s concepts as a debasement of the tried-and-true Skinner design, and worse yet, a personal affront. As early as 1930 he was openly contemptuous, seesawing between periods of reluctant collaboration and outright warfare. (11) Despite a long-standing perfection of means, the new Aeolian-Skinner Company was torn apart by a confusion of aims.
As President, Arthur Hudson Marks controlled the Company stock, and he supported Harrison. Ernest Skinner was encouraged to build his own contracts in his own way, but the dominant thrust of the Company was to be Harrison’s. The sixty-nine-year-old Skinner, annoyed by what was to him unaccountable behavior, withdrew to Methuen, Massachusetts, and there continued building the “authentic” Skinner organ. (12) Gradually the dust settled, and Mr. Skinner leaves our story here.
Despite the exigencies of the Depression and with a healthy cash reserve, Aeolian-Skinner remained surprisingly intact. Even in the depths of the Depression, enough contracts trickled in to maintain a corps of the finest artisans, and the splendid Aeolian-Skinner quality never varied. With the encouragement of such luminaries as Dr. Albert Schweitzer and E. Power Biggs, Harrison began to design radically different tonal schemes – organs that incorporated historical as well as modern voices, organs that could play Bach just as well as 19th century music. Instead of Skinner’s voices of the orchestra, Harrison instituted a return to the traditional practice of pure organ tone in choruses of many pitches, capped by stops of great brilliance called mixtures. (13)
For Harrison to put all his tonal eggs in one basket meant a flurry of mechanical redesign at the factory, as well as extended tonal experimentation in the real acoustical setting of a church building. It became necessary to find a progressive organist and a church close to the factory that would welcome the new and largely untried ideas. So far, Harrison had only one example (and that incomplete) to show of his new work – Saint John’s Chapel at Groton School. (14) Would it be as effective in another setting?
* * *
Meanwhile, the Church of the Advent was having water problems. As early as 1927, water leaking through the roof of the organ chamber had damaged the mechanism. (15) The Hutchings organ was now 52 years old, and despite a sizeable gift in 1933 for repairs from Corporation Member Frederick Moseley, the old organ was failing. Frederick Johnson was organist, a service player par excellenceand a boy choir director of great accomplishment. He also had an unswerving devotion to G. Donald Harrison and the Aeolian-Skinner Company.
Talk of a new Advent organ had surfaced as early as 1932, without result. In 1935 the disposition of a generous bequest from Harold Jefferson Coolidge evoked considerable discussion. Many members felt the pews should be replaced with cathedral chairs. Johnson thought the funds should defray the expenses of a new organ, as did Wallace Goodrich, a member of the Corporation, director of the New England Conservatory, and an organist himself.(16) Eventually everyone agreed, including the Rector (coincidentally named Harrison): the flooded and failing Hutchings-Plaisted organ would be replaced with the eighth Advent organ, a new Aeolian-Skinner costing $24,000. (17)
The new Advent organ was polished like a diamond. Harrison himself took charge of the final voicing, (18) and devoted every effort to building a perfect instrument. For the Advent was a perfect church – handsome architecture, stunning appointments, a liturgy of compelling beauty and acoustics that angels would love. It was rumored that certain sets of pipes in the principal chorus – over a thousand pipes, and the backbone of the organ – were repeatedly shipped back to the factory for revision, a staggering undertaking. Apparently the voicers made adroit alterations to match the acoustics of the building.
Finally, Harrison was satisfied with the outcome. Clarence Watters played the dedicatory recital in April 1936; everyone was there. All agreed it was an impressive instrument and an organ that one liked to sing with. As usual, the Old Guard heard too much brilliance, the reform organists, just enough. But few who attended realized the enormous significance of the event. Harrison’s work was so novel that it took months, even years, for the full impact to be felt.
In general, pipe organs change slowly. The best of them add but little to the evolution of the instrument. To change the whole course of American organ building with a single instrument is a rarity indeed – scarcely a handful of organs have done this in two hundred years. Boston has been the happy site of two such events: the first was the opening of the Boston Music Hall organ in 1863; the other was the Advent organ in 1936. Not surprisingly, it became the Aeolian-Skinner showcase, and as time passed the impact on organ-building became more impressive and more profound. Harrison’s influence soon eclipsed all his contemporaries, and the genesis of his world-famous American Classic Style was in the Brimmer Street Church. The American Classic Organs, with their resplendent and instantly recognizable tone, were universally imitated in this country for 35 years. Thus the Advent organ was soon considered a pivotal organ of the 20th century.
Organists talked of little else; there followed a parade of prominent artists. When Dr. Schweitzer toured this country in 1949, he chose three organs to play, one of them the Advent.(19) Virtually every book and article on organs of the period describes the instrument, frequently at length.(20) Many who play it have echoed Thomas Stevens’ remarks in the British journal The Organ: “It will be obvious that I was very much struck with this instrument . . . the Advent organ was probably the finest modern organ that I have heard…” (21)
In the years since 1935 a succession of exceptional organists have presided at this instrument: Frederick Johnson, George Faxon, Alfred Patterson, Emory Fanning, John Cook, Phillip Steinhaus, Edith Ho and Mark Dwyer.(22) They have seen organ-building change radically in the intervening years. G. Donald Harrison died in 1956, and the Aeolian-Skinner Company, after achieving the ultimate height of fame and prestige under his direction, gradually lost it all.
Several men attempted to take over his role, but there was no one with the strength of character and clear vision to replace him. Faced with an attrition of working capital, a gradual loss of the older artisans, and the increasing difficulty of building quality musical instruments of enormous size and complexity, the great edifice of Aeolian-Skinner slowly crumbled into bankruptcy.
Many large and important instruments have been erected in Boston since 1935. The philosophy of Harrison’s American Classic has been carried further, and into new channels.(23) But for the visitor and the local enthusiast alike, the Church of the Advent is still the place where the American Classic Organ was born. It remains one of the finest jewels in the sparkling Aeolian-Skinner crown – highly unusual in its day, by now a venerable and majestic instrument; a stunning example of artistic American organ building at its very best.
(1) Diary of Rev. Joseph Green of Salem, vol. 10 part 1, Wm. Fowler, ed. Essex Historical Society – Essex Institute Press 1969.
(2) Ochse: History of the Organ in the United States p. 20. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1975.
(3) Edward B. Gammons, personal conversation. Mr. Gammons was the organist of Groton School 1941-74. The organ is now in the Congregational Church, Groton, Mass.
(4) Wallace Goodrich et al: The Parish of the Church of the Advent, A History of One Hundred Years 1844-1944 – Centennial Report.
(5) Gammons took lessons on the Hutchings-Plaisted organ and remembers the 1912 swing-jamb console on the left, facing into the chancel.
(6) Centennial Report. The choir stalls were given at the same time in memory of John and Francis Sturgis. Console specification, p. 10.
(7) Much of the history of the Skinner Company is general knowledge, to be found in Ochse and elsewhere. Production figures from “America Visited” by Henry Willis, in The Organ October 1925.
(8) Willis’ version is interesting. After describing Harrison as “my right-hand man” he goes on to say: “Following my comparatively short annual visits as consultant to the then Skinner Company in 1924, 1925, and 1926, it became obvious that if progress was to be effectively made it was necessary for one with the right technical knowledge and ability to be appointed to carry on the good work. On my recommendation Don Harrison joined the Skinner Organ Company in 1927, rising from the position of assistant technical director to president in a few years.” Musical Opinion LXXIX p. 672.
(9) Bowers: Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments p. 298-300 Vestal Press, NY 1972. The Concertola was a triumph of design, but never in the slightest degree reliable. Nonetheless, as an Art Form, the multi-roll ferris wheel changer was so beautiful that original owners (as well as present-day collectors) were said to have experienced “lascivious sensations” watching it rip their last ten rolls to shreds.
(10) The history of Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner is both complex and colorful. For further detail, consult Jonathan Ambrosino, “A History of Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner,”www.jonathanambrosino.com.
(11) Ochse, p. 380.
(12) According to Gammons and Barbara Owen, Skinner was preparing for the move to Methuen as early as 1930-31.
(13) Mixtures were not new; the Continental and early American builders had long used them in profusion. But emphasizing them was new to the 1930s, and they created a storm of protest. In the light of Harrison’s later popularity it is easy to forget his early battles with the Old Guard. These malcontents never used the word “mixture” without one and the same pejorative adjective in front of it, andScreaming Mixtures became the war cry that united them in an unbroken front against Aeolian-Skinner.
(14) Groton was nine stops larger than Advent, in an even better acoustic but with a far more contained organ chamber.
(16) Goodrich was, for instance, the organist at the opening of Symphony Hall in 1900. According to Gammons, he took a “disguised” outline of Harrison’s Advent specification to Carl McKinley, organist of Old South Church, Copley Square for his opinion. McKinley, who must have known the builder by the amount of upperwork, had only one suggestion – the addition of the full Great & Pedal and Swell & Pedal pistons. When the console arrived, Johnson, somewhat piqued, taped them over and never used them.
(17) According to Gammons, Groton School (Opus 936) cost $25,000 and was built at the same time as the Advent. While slightly larger, Groton was so far from Boston that visiting dignitaries were invariably taken to Brimmer Street.
(18) John Cook: The Organ in the Church of the Advent. Leaflet, January 1965.
(19) Mark A. Wuonola: The Church of the Advent, a Guidebook. Boston 1965.
(20) As an example, both Ochse and Vivian in The Diapason, January 1978, give voluminous detail.
(21) Thomas Stevens: “Impressions of Some Organs in the U.S.” The Organ, Oct. 1957.
(22) Frederick Johnson was organist until shortly before his death in 1946. George Faxon 1946-49, Alfred Nash Patterson 1949-1960, Emory Fanning 1961, John Cook 1961-68, Phillip Steinhaus 1968-77, Edith Ho 1977-2007; Mark Dwyer 2007-present.
(23) Gammons quotes Harrison’s comments on mixtures: “Mixtures are like taking dope. Your tolerance goes up, and you have to increase the dose until at last you don’t want substance any more.” In the two decades following the death of G. Donald Harrison, the use of upperwork at times approached the irrational.
CHURCH OF THE ADVENT, BOSTON
HUTCHINGS-PLAISTED ORGAN 1883
NEW CONSOLE AND ELECTRIC ACTION, 1912
September 2, The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost Andrea Gabrieli: Missa Brevis
Cristóbal de Morales: Peccantem me quotidie
Adrian Batten: Lord, we beseech thee
September 9, The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Alonso Lobo: Missa “Petre ego pro te rogavi”
Knut Nystedt: Laudate Dominum
Louie L. White: St Teresa’s Book Mark
September 16, Holy Cross Day Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa ad Fugam
Francisco Guerrero: O Domine Jesu Christe
Anon: O Domine, Jesu Christe
September 23 – The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost William Byrd: Mass for Four Voices
James MacMillan: A New Song
William Byrd: Siderum rector
September 28, St Michael & All Angels Friday, 6:30 PM, Gala Garden Reception follows A Celebration of The Rev’d Allan B. Warren III, XV Rector Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa “Æterna Christi munera”
Jonathan Dove: Bless the Lord, O my soul
Ēriks Ešenvalds: O salutaris hostia
Te Deum laudamus: Gregorian chant, Solemn Tone
September 30 – The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost Hans Leo Haßler: Missa Secunda
William Byrd: Sing joyfully
Alexander L’Estrange: Oculi omnium
October 7 – The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost Sopranos Jean Langlais: Missa in Simplicitate
David Lord: Close in My Breast Thy Perfect Love
Alfred Desenclos: O salutaris hostia
October 14 – The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost Tomás Luis de Victoria: Missa “Dum complerentur”
Paweł Łukaszewski: Memento mei
Stephen Paulus: Hymn to the Eternal Flame
Compline 8:00 PM sung by members of The Advent Choir Charles Wood: Hail, gladdening light
Robert Parsons: Domine, quis habitabit
John Sheppard: In manus tuas
John Rutter: God be in my head
October 21 – St Luke Francisco Guerrero: Missa “Congratulamini mihi”
Francisco Guerrero: Hoc est præceptum meum
Francisco Guerrero: O sacrum convivium
Solemn Evensong & Benediction 4:30 PM Organ Prelude Recital by Janet Yieh; music of Mendelssohn, Elgar, Beach, & Duruflé 5:00 PM Evensong & Benediction 6:00 PM Light Supper & Talk Thomas Tomkins: Responses
Herbert Howells: St Paul’s Service
Max Reger: Nachtlied, op 138, no 3
Basil Harwood: O how glorious is the kingdom, op 12
October 28 – The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost with Period Instruments Roland de Lassus: Missa “Bel’ Amfitrit altera”
Melchior Vulpius: Jesus sprach zu dem Blinden
William Byrd: Unam petii a Domino
November 2 – All Souls Day Friday, 6:30 PM Alfred Desenclos: Messe de Requiem
November 4 – The Sunday in the Octave of All Saints Tomás Luis de Victoria: Missa “O quam gloriosum”
Tomás Luis de Victoria: O quam gloriosum
Tomás Luis de Victoria: Gaudent in cœlis
November 11 – The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost John Sheppard: Paschal Kyrie
John Sheppard: The French Mass
Thomas Tomkins: O Lord, I have loved
Thomas Tomkins: My shepherd is the living Lord
Compline 8:00 PM sung by members of The Advent Choir William H. Harris: Holy is the true light
John Sheppard: In pace, idipsum
Thomas Tallis: In manus tuas
William Byrd: I have longed for thy saving health
November 18 – The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Gerald Near: Missa “Orbis factor”
Lee Hoiby: At the round earth’s imagined corners
Williametta Spencer: At the round earth’s imagined corners
Solemn Evensong & Benediction 4:30 PM Organ Prelude Recital by Caroline Robinson; music of Reger, Sowerby, Duruflé, & Cook 5:00 PM Evensong & Benediction 6:00 PM Light Supper & Talk Paul Halley: Responses
David Hogan: Mt St Alban Service
Gary Davison: Most glorious Lord of life
Lee Hoiby: At the round earth’s imagined corners
November 25 – Christ the King Tomás Luis de Victoria: Missa “Salve Regina”
Orlando Gibbons: O clap your hands together
Henry Purcell: The Lord is King, Z. 69
Jakob Handl: Te Deum laudamus tertii toni
December 2 – The First Sunday of Advent – The Feast of Title & Dedication
William Mundy: Kyrie “Cunctipotens genitor Deus”
John Taverner: Missa Sancti Wilhelmi Devotio “Small Devotion”
William Byrd: Rorate cœli desuper
William H. Harris: Bring us, O Lord God
A Service of Lessons & Carols for Advent Sunday 4:30 PM Organ Prelude Recital by Damin Spritzer 5:00 PM Lessons & Carols 6:00 PM Gala Reception
Robert Lehman: Matin & Vesper Responsories
Pawel Lukaszewski: Memento mei
arr Karl Moyer: The Truth from Above
Jonathan Dove: Bless the Lord, O my soul
William Byrd: Rorate cœli desuper
arr Barry Ferguson: People look East
Gabriel Jackson: To Morning
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Benedictus in D “Christ’s Hospital”
December 9 – The Second Sunday of Advent Roland de Lassus: Missa octavi toni (Missa Venatorum)
Hieronymus Praetorius: Ecce Dominus veniet
Compline 8:00 PM sung by members of The Advent Choir
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Matin Responsory
Jakob Handl: Ecce concipies
John Sheppard: In manus tuas
Robert Ramsey: O sapientia
December 16 – The Third Sunday of Advent (“Gaudete”) Healey Willan: Missa Brevis XI, “Sancti Johannis Baptistæ”
Anonymous: Rejoice in the Lord alway
Eriks Ešenvalds: O salutaris hostia
December 23 – The Fourth Sunday of Advent Tomás Luis de Victoria: Missa “Ave maris stella”
Cecelia McDowall: Alma redemptoris mater
Tomás Luis de Victoria: Ne timeas, Maria
December 24 – Christmas Eve Monday, 11:00 PM, Prelude by the Advent Choir c. 10:15 PM
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa “Papæ Marcelli”
William Byrd: This day Christ was born
Tomás Luis de Victoria: Congratulamini omnes
December 30 – The First Sunday after Christmas (Organ)
Healey Willan: Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena to be sung by the congregation
December 31 – New Year’s Eve
A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols by Candlelight Monday, 5:00 PM Matthew Martin: Nowell, sing we
arr. Herbert Howells: O mortal man (Sussex Mummers’ Carol)
Peter Aston: Make we joye
Gabriel Jackson: Hush, my dear, lie still and slumber
William Byrd: This day Christ was born
Herbert Howells: Sing lullaby
arr. Andrew Carter: A maiden most gentle
Tomás Luis de Victoria: Congratulamini omnes
arr. Ian Humphris: Past three o’clock
Eriks Ešenvalds: The Heavens’ Flock
William Mathias: A babe is born, op 55
January 6 – The Epiphany
Tomás Luis de Victoria: Missa “O magnum mysterium”
Eriks Ešenvalds: The Heavens’ Flock
Stephen Paulus: The Road Home
January 13 – The Baptism of Our Lord
Jacobus Clemens non Papa: Missa “Misericorde”
Jacobus Clemens non Papa: Super ripam Jordanis
Jacobus Clemens non Papa: Vox de cœlo sonuit
Compline 8:00 PM sung by members of The Advent Choir
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Reges Tharsis et insulæ
William Byrd: Surge illuminare, Jerusalem
Thomas Tallis: In manus tuas Domine
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Sicut cervus desiderat
January 20 – The Confession of St Peter
Alonso Lobo: Missa “Petre ego pro te rogavi”
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Tus Petrus à 6
Francisco Guerrero: Petre ego pro te rogavi
Solemn Evensong & Benediction 4:30 PM Organ Prelude Recital by Tate Addis 5:00 PM Evensong & Benediction 6:00 PM Light Supper & Talk
William Byrd: Responses
Thomas Tallis: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis octavi toni (Latin Service)
William Byrd: Tu es pastor ovium
William Byrd: Quodcunque ligaveris
January 27 – The Third Sunday after the Epiphany Annual Parish Meeting Sopranos & Altos
Benjamin Britten: Missa Brevis
Felix Mendelssohn: Laudate pueri Dominum, op 39, no 2
Arthur Willis: Ave verum corpus
February 3 – Solemnity of Candlemas
William Byrd: Kyrie (Mass for Three Voices)
Thomas Tallis: Missa “Salve intemerata”
William Byrd: Nunc dimittis à 5 (Gradualia)
Gabriel Jackson: Jesu, rex admirabilis
Robert Ramsey: Almighty and everlasting God
February 10 – The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Communion Service in D “Christ’s Hospital”
Charles Wood: Expectans Expectavi
C. Hubert H. Parry: Never weather-beaten sail (Songs of Farewell)
Compline 8:00 PM sung by members of The Advent Choir
William H. Harris: Bring us, O Lord God
William Mundy: O Lord, the maker of all thing
John Blitheman: In pace, idipsum
Peter Hallock: Show us your mercy, O Lord
February 17 – The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Roland de Lassus: Missa ad imitationem moduli “Vinum bonum”
Arvo Pärt: The Beatitudes
Charles Villiers Stanford: Beati quorum via, op 38, no 3
Solemn Evensong & Benediction 4:30 PM Organ Prelude Recital by Joshua Stafford 5:00 PM Evensong & Benediction 6:00 PM Light Supper & Talk
Philip Radcliffe: Responses
Healey Willan: Evening Service in A Major
Charles Villiers Stanford: Beati quorum via, op 38, no 3
Gabriel Jackson: Jesu, rex admirabilis
February 24 – The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany Tenors & Basses
Jacobus de Kerle: Missa “Regina cœli”
William H. Harris: The Gate of the Year
Giovanni Francesco Anerio: Unam petii a Domino
March 3 – The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Jean Langlais: Messe Solennelle
Morten Lauridsen: O nata lux de lumine
John Scott: Behold, O God, our defender
March 6 – Ash Wednesday Wednesday, 6:30 PM
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa “Emendemus in melius”
William Byrd: Emendemus in melius
Henry Purcell: Hear my prayer, O Lord, Z 15
Gregorio Allegri: Miserere mei, Deus
All the above services are at 11:15 am on Sundays and are sung by The Choir of The Church of the Advent unless otherwise indicated.
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant unto thy people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of thee delight in thy whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
If you are visiting or new to the Advent, we hope that you will feel welcome and at home. Please, if you will, fill out a visitor’s/newcomer’s card so that we can keep in touch.
All persons baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit are invited to the Altar to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If you wish to receive a blessing, come to the Altar and cross your arms over your chest.
Childcare is provided for infants and toddlers during both the 9 AM and 11:15 AM Masses.
9:00 AM – Infant nursery is located on the first floor in the room beyond the Parish Office. The Toddler nursery is located downstairs in Moseley Hall.
11:15 AM – Infant and Toddlers are cared for on the first floor in the room beyond the office.
If you have questions or special needs we want to hear them. Contact Meg Nelson at 856-217-0847.
The flowers at the High Altar are given to the Glory of God and in loving memory of Ellen Leighton. The flowers at the Crossing are given to the Glory of God and in loving memory of Louise Olney Baker.
9:00 Coffee Hour. Ray Porter and Nola Sheffer host the Coffee Hour this morning. The hosts next week are Robb Scholten and Barbara Boles. New coffee hour hosts are always needed; please contact Barbara Boles by phone, 617-625-1857, or email her if you’re interested or have questions about what is entailed.
11:15 Coffee Hour. Annlinnea Terranova hosts the Coffee Hour this morning. Next week the hosts are Stephen Eisele & Ian Mackey and Frederick Zartarian. We are in need of more volunteers to do the coffee hour. Please contact the Coffee Team to volunteer. To sign up or if you have any questions, please contact Marcos or Daniel German-Domingues or Frederick Ou.
Attention singers! The fall season is rapidly approaching, with the first rehearsal of the Advent’s famed Parish Choir taking place this week – Wednesday evening, September 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM in the Choir Room. This ensemble provides music for the 9:00 Sung Mass on a regular basis and for several evening services throughout the year. The choir meets mostly on Sunday mornings an hour before the mass, but has one full choir rehearsal per month on a Wednesday evening. If you wish to join them to sing masterworks of the Renaissance and Anglican traditions, please contact Mark Dwyer or Ross Wood after Mass, or call Mark Dwyer at 523-2377 extension 141 or email him for more information.
Can You Help? Morning Prayer is prayed here at the Church of the Advent seven days a week: Sundays at 7:30 AM, Monday through Friday at 9:00 AM, Saturdays and holidays at 8:30 AM. This is a wonderful and appropriate way to begin the day, for the Clergy especially, but also for the others who attend the service.
Evening Prayer is scheduled to be prayed at 5:30 PM Monday through Friday. Because of evening programs and pastoral responsibilities, it is becoming more and more difficult for the Clergy alone to maintain these Monday through Friday services, and so we badly need volunteers to conduct Evening Prayer if the present schedule is to continue. Think about this, and if you are able to take on one of these evening services, please speak to Fr Warren or Fr Wood.
Acolytes for the 9 AM Mass. Several of our loyal and loved Servers and Acolytes graduated this past spring and have gone off to school. We are proud of them and we congratulate them. However, this means that we need volunteers, both young and old, to take their place if the 9 AM Mass is to continue as usual. And, for all who worship at 9 AM, that is a priority.
Serving at the Altar is a great joy and, for young people, it is a wonderful way to learn the liturgy and worship and prayer of the Church. If you think your child might be interested, find out and let us know. Training sessions will be held in the next several weeks. Not only that, please think about volunteering yourself. Serving at the Altar is, for adults as well, an important opportunity for learning and spiritual growth.
If you are interested or have questions, please speak to Peter Madsen or one of the clergy.
Community Groups at the Advent: Interested in being part of a small group? These are the groups currently, or soon to be, meeting on a regular basis:
• The Arts & Letters Group meets for reading and discussion most Wednesdays starting around 6:45, after the conclusion of the Healing Mass. Our reading selections are determined by consensus and range from contemporary commentaries on scripture and theology to the classic historic writings of the church. Arts & Letters is open to all parishioners. Please contact Robb Scholten for info.
• The Beacon Hill Group meets at the home of Sammy and Renée Wood. For info, contact Fr Wood or Ali White . All parishioners from the Beacon Hill area are welcome.
• A Cambridge/Somerville group gathers on the first and third Wednesdays of every month at the home of Maye Chan and Kris Ferrario (81R Mt. Vernon Street, Apt. 2, Somerville). The group is open to everyone, and for more info contact Maye (917-385-3470), Kris (651-357-7476) or Andrew Reese (617-460-2979).
The Advent urges every one of her members to be part of a small group where we form deep friendships, do in-depth study, worship and pray, encourage each other, and serve together. Whether you’ve been in small groups for decades or you’ve never been to one at all, you’re invited!
A second Church of the Advent Pilgrimage will take place next spring. This time we will be going to Turkey – known as the Second Holy Land – to cities and churches visited by St Paul and also described in the Acts of the Apostles. It will be a very different trip from the first pilgrimage, but will be equally astonishing, inspiring, and unforgettable.
We will leave on Sunday, April 10, 2016, flying on Turkish Airlines from Boston to Istanbul and on to Kayseri in Cappadocia and return on Saturday, April 23, 2016, flying from Istanbul to Boston.
Brochures for the Pilgrimage, giving a detailed itinerary, can be found at the rear of the church. The cost will be approximately $3,300, but is not quite set because of fluctuations in airline and fuel expenses. However, since almost everything is included, this, like the first pilgrimage, will certainly be a bargain. If you wish to be part of the pilgrimage, please speak to Fr Warren.
MISSION & OUTREACH
Welcome to the world, Baby Charlotte! Charlotte Child Seney was born to Jessica and Scott on August 31 at 1:44 AM. weighing 7 lbs 3 ounces. Mom and baby are at home and doing great, and now we want to show them some Advent love and care! If you can provide a meal to the Seney family, please click on the link below and select a date on the Advent Meal Rota website. Then contact Jessica (info on the website) to set up a delivery time. https://www.lotsahelpinghands.com/c/625294.
Urgent Need – Assistance to Syrian Refugees – Missions & Outreach Campaign // In the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, more than 12 million people have been displaced, half of them children. Every day, new, heart-rending photos and statistics are published. The Advent Missions & Outreach team is about to launch an online fundraising campaign, designating an initial $1,000 gift to relief efforts. You can support this effort by joining the campaign (http://diy.rescue.org/support_syrian_refugees). Additionally, if you wish, you can sign a petition urging our government to assist with accepting and resettling refugees (https://www.change.org/p/your-government-officials-make-all-refugeeswelcome).
Service Opportunity – Ushers Needed: Will you volunteer to serve as an usher at the 9:00 or 11:15 Masses? Duties include: greeting arrivals, handing out bulletins, fielding questions and assisting at the Eucharist – the burden is light! For the 9:00, families are especially invited to volunteer to bring up the gifts (the congregation’s offering of tithes, bread and wine) during the offertory, as well as to serve together as ushers. For more information, or to get on the rota, email our Verger, Ray Porter.
Blessing of Animals & Donations to Angell Memorial – Feast of St Francis, Sunday, October 4 – Donations of pet food, old towels or blankets, kitty litter, peanut butter, cat and dog toys, hand sanitizer, and more will be presented and blessed at the 9 AM Mass on Sunday October 4. (For a complete “wish list,” please visit mspca.org.) There will be a Blessing of the Animals at 3 pm that afternoon in the chancel. Questions? See Deacon Daphne or Fr Wood.
BostonServe coming up in October: BostonServe is designed to bring people, businesses, churches, and campuses together to love, give, and reach our city. The Advent is recruiting volunteers to serve at a site right here in our neighborhood on Saturday October 24, 2015. To learn more, go to www.uniteboston.com or watch a short video at https://youtu.be/78NYns97hrI. To sign up to volunteer with the Advent, please email Fr Wood.
ODDS & ENDS
Discount Vouchers for the Boston Common Garage are available for $9.00 each from Nola Sheffer. You can find her between the 9:00 and 11:15 Masses at the Coffee Hour or Entr’acte. The vouchers can be used after 4:00 PM weekdays, and all day Saturday and Sunday. Questions? Email Nola.
This Week at the Advent September 14-20, 2015
Monday, September 14
Beacon Hill Seminar Kickoff Reception
Girl Scout Leaders
Tuesday, September 15
Wednesday, September 16
Ninian of Galloway
Parish Choir Rehearsal
Thursday, September 17
Hildegard of Bingen
Friday, September 18
Edward Bouverie Pusey
Saturday, September 19
Theodore of Tarsus
Advent Choir Rehearsal
Sunday, September 20
The Solemnity of the
Feast of the Holy Cross
The art of change ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. But to the English campanologist … the proper use of the bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations.
— Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors
The Advent Bells
In 1900, eight bells in the key of E were cast for the Church of the Advent at the Whitechapel Bellfoundry in London through the gift of Robert Codman in memory of his wife, Catherine. At their dedication on October 7th, 1900 they “were pronounced to be of remarkable richness, dignity and mellowness of tone.” These marvelous bells, the lightest 666 pounds and the heaviest more than 2100 pounds, are still rung every week by the Advent Guild of Bellringers in the style known as English Change Ringing.
What is English Change Ringing?
“English Change Ringing” refers to the rhythmic sounding of a set of tuned bells in changing sequences that are determined by the mathematical principles of permutation. These sequences do not resemble either the tunes typically played on a carillon or the jangle of European style church bell ringing but instead are the majestic pealing that is associated with great English state ceremonies as well as humble village weddings.
From the 12th century, the chiming of tower bells had been customary in all English villages to tell the time of day and to call people to church services. Ringing changes on these bells first arose around the year 1600 in the eastern counties of England, having been made possible by two parallel developments. The motivating development was the desire for the bells to be heard more broadly over the countryside and for the ringers to have more control over the timing of the sound. The enabling development was the replacement of the rope and lever, which had been used from the earliest days to sound the bells with, first, quarter wheels and then, by stages, the full-circle wheels we still use today. The bells could then be rung by means of a rope running in a channel around the wheel’s rim down into the room below where it was pulled by ringer using a long, vertical, two-stroke movement. This arrangement allowed the bell to swing through 360 degrees and to sound just before it reached the balance, mouth-up, projecting its voice widely up and out of the tower. In just this same manner are change ringing bells hung and rung to this day.
Making the Music
In the ringing room, directly below the belfry, ringers stand in a circle, one behind each rope. The person ringing the lightest bell calls out the traditional alert: “Look to!” Then as she starts her pull, “Treble’s going!,” and finally as the bell begins to swing downward, “She’s gone!” Each other bell is then pulled off in rapid succession creating the mesmerizing sound of a descending scale, repeated over and over again, known as “Rounds.” The ringer who has been designated the conductor will soon announce the method to be rung by calling out, for example, “Go, Grandsire Triples,” and smoothly – if all goes well – the sequence of sounds will change from the descending scale to continually shifting orders while keeping to the steady, even rhythm.
The Patterns: Those changes in the order of the bells’ sounding that constitute a method are governed by four rules: (a) no bell may move more than one position at each change/row; (b) each bell sounds once in each row; (c) no row is repeated; and (d) the ringing begins and ends in Rounds.
So, in the first row the bells ring in order 123456, then in the next row, for example, adjacent pairs of bells might all switch positions and the order would become 214365. In the next row, the bells in the first and last positions might remain in place and all the others might switch producing the new order: 241635. Such switching would continue until the bells came back into Rounds. The diagram to the left shows the simplest of the methods, Plain Hunt on four bells, with a line drawn through the path – that is, the sequence of moves forward and backward in the order – that is followed by Bell #2.
Since eight bells can be rung in 40,320 different orders, enormous variety in the methods is possible. Ringers commit various methods to memory and shift within or among them according to directions from their conductor. The methods are collected in books – every tower has a copy of “Diagrams” and most ringers carry a copy of “The Ringing World Diary,” and, more importantly in this era of rapid development, virtually all methods are now available on-line through several different electronic archives. These archives, supported by the growing library of books and electronic tutorials about how to learn to ring, provide an invaluable resource for the study that is essential to making progress as a ringer.
The Manoeuvers: Neither great size, strength, nor physical effort is generally required for change
ringing on tower bells. Once the smooth, straight pull (shown in the photo at right) that guides the rope most efficiently in its path has been fully mastered, even small people can ring very large bells. Making a bell sound earlier or later in any given row, however, requires further refinement of rope handling skills. The small adjustments to the pull that are necessary to change the position of a bell in the row are accomplished by each ringer’s altering the position of her hands on the rope, the exact timing of the pull itself, and the energy applied.
For all the bells to be sounded exactly where and when they should be requires very close teamwork among all the ringers in the band. Since a bell sounds about ¾ of a second after the ringer has initiated the pull, achieving correct “striking” requires the development of reliable internal rhythm, fine attunement to the actual sound of the bells, and the ability to interpret the visible movement of all the ropes in the circle. Development of these essential skills for basic bell control typically takes some months for learners and achieving true mastery is a lifelong endeavor for most ringers.
The Language: One of the pleasures of change ringing is the rich language that ringers use to communicate with each other about what they are doing. Our bells are fitted with gudgeons and sliders, and our ropes with sallies and tails. The basic moves in our methods are dodging, hunting, and making places, while more complicated maneuvers have names like cat’s ears, bus tickets, and fish tails. In following the blue line we lead, lie behind, and take [another ringer] off the front. While ringing some methods we might be in the slow, or doing Long London, or being quick bell. When the conductor makes a call, we may run in, run out, or make the Bob. When our striking is poor, we may be admonished to keep the backstrokes up, or to widen the handstroke gap, and if we fail to do this, the touch may fire up. When the ringing is good, we can enjoy listening to the roll-ups or the tenors coursing. Most perfectly, our methods are classified as Plain, Surprise, or Delight!
Why Do They Do It?
Change ringers are often attracted to “The Exercise,” as it was called in earlier times, because of the unusual sound or the mathematical nature of its music as well as the antiquity of the art. They typically continue to ring because of their pleasure in the powerful combination of mental discipline, physical skill, and close teamwork that is required for it all to “work.” Added to that are the benefits of the relations among local and regional ringers and their participation in the wider international ringing community as well as, for parishioners, an opportunity to support their church in a practical and pleasurable way.
English Change Ringing is still generally practiced only in parts of the world that once constituted the British Empire. In England today about 40,000 ringers serve nearly 5000 towers, while on this side of the Atlantic more than 500 members of the North American Guild of Change Ringers ring in 45 towers. Similar numbers of ringers and towers are active in Australia and New Zealand and a much smaller number in South Africa. A weekly magazine, The Ringing World, is published in England to keep members of the worldwide community in touch with interesting developments, achievements, and milestones, while numerous web-sites and services form important linkages to both historical and current information.
Change Ringing Today at the Advent
After the Advent bells were dedicated, they were rung for only two or three years before they were silenced because of complaints about the noise. They hung unused in the belfry for 70 years until in 1972 Geoff Davies and Doug Brown rediscovered them and taught a band to ring them again in the English Change Ringing style. The bells had suffered from their long neglect, however, so in 1976 they were rehung in a new frame, somewhat lower in the tower, and with better sound controls. Their “go” was thus significantly improved and ringing at the Advent began to flourish. On July 4th, 1976, the Advent bells first joined the Boston Pops in performing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture for a national television broadcast, beginning an annual tradition that continues to this day.
The local band has been through many changes in the ensuing decades and for about ten years starting in the 1980s became the most active band in North America. They rang a record number of peals (three hours of continuous ringing), including some of such complexity that they have never been rung anywhere else, and also developed a network of friendships throughout the ringing world that still brings ringing visitors to the Advent regularly.
Today the band is building again. We continue to include and welcome people of all ages, genders, occupations, personal styles, and beliefs. We ring peals and quarters regularly, travel to other New England towers (the photo shows the band after ringing at the Groton School), and hold various events throughout the year to introduce more people to the great art of change ringing.
For More Information
Practice is held at the Advent on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 PM. We also practice at the Old North Church – yes, Paul Revere’s church and the very bells which he, himself, rang – on Saturdays from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Everyone is welcome to attend either practice and “have a go.”
The band rings for Sunday services from 10:10 to 11:05 AM at the Advent and from Noon to 1:00 PM at Old North. Learners are expected to participate in regular service ringing once they have become independent and reliable in Rounds.
On Wednesdays we meet at the Advent Parish House door at 30 Brimmer Street until 7 PM, when that door is locked. Anyone arriving later should go to the door around the corner on Mt. Vernon Street and, when the bells are not sounding, ring the white buzzer located on the left-hand frame of the right-hand pair of doors. Be sure to hold it down for two seconds and someone will come down to let you in. On Sundays we enter the Advent through the Mt. Vernon Street door and then turn left immediately and go up to the tower through the library.